Tom McNamara Looks Back at the Seattle Mariners’ 2012 Draft

Mike Zunino
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tom McNamara remembers the 2012 draft well. Now a Special Assistant to the General Manager with the Kansas City Royals, McNamara was then the Director of Amateur Scouting for a Seattle Mariners team that landed Mike Zunino with the third overall pick, this after the Houston Astros had tabbed Carlos Correa and the Minnesota Twins followed by taking Byron Buxton. Other first-round notables that year included Kevin Gausman to the Baltimore Orioles at four, Max Fried to the San Diego Padres at seven, and Corey Seager to the Los Angeles Dodgers at 18.

As is the case with every MLB draft, woulda-coulda-shoulda is in no short supply when you look back with 20/20 hindsight. Eight of the first 30 picks that year have never reached the majors, and a dozen more have yet to accumulate 10 WAR. It’s safe to say that numerous teams would go in a different direction if given an opportunity to do it all over again.

How might have things unfolded differently for the Mariners in 2012? McNamara shared some of his thoughts on that subject during a visit to Fenway Park in September.


David Laurila: Let’s start with a player you drafted but didn’t sign. You took Mike Yastrzemski in the 30th round out of Vanderbilt.

Tom McNamara: “Our area scout in the Northeast really liked him in high school. He got to know him, so we knew Mike’s makeup. I also knew how much the head coach at Vandy, Tim Corbin, liked him both as a player and a person. Mike didn’t put up loud numbers there in his junior season, but I remember going to our GM, Jack Zduriencik, and telling him there was a player still on the board I’d love to give a nice bonus to. We ended up offering Mike $300,000. I remember flying across the country and meeting him in Boston. It was Mike, his mom. his agent, his grandfather…”

Laurila: His grandfather being pretty notable.

McNamara: “Yeah. He was a pretty good player. I was always a big fan of Mike’s grandfather, even though I was from New York. And I think Mike was actually a little surprised with the offer we made him. He’s a great kid. He told me that he needed a day to think about it.

“I could tell that his grandfather kind of liked the fact that it was Seattle, that it was away from the Northeast. That’s understandable. When you’re Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson, there is a lot of pressure there. But Mike told me he had promised his family that he would finish school on time before he signed, and it’s pretty tough to put up a fight when a kid says that. There were definitely no hard feelings with him not signing with us. Looking back, the mistake we made was not drafting him the following year. We should have, because we knew him and we liked him as a player. Baltimore took him, I believe. The rest is history.”

Laurila: Carlos Correa is a player you didn’t have an opportunity to draft. He went first overall.

McNamara: “You know, sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth after a draft, five, 10, even 15 years later. And it’s easy to look back and say, ‘We should have done this, we should have done that.’ We weren’t 100% sure that Carlos was a shortstop. We thought he was going to get bigger and might move to third base. But we were in Puerto Rico a lot. We scouted him. We got to know him.

“Our scouts down in Puerto Rico and South Florida did a great job. They got him in for a pre-draft workout. We were picking three, and I think the Astros surprised people by taking him one-one. But when he came to our pre-draft workout, he punched us in the mouth. I mean, when you see a player in your big-league stadium and he stands out like that… it was like, ‘Okay, he can play short.’ We were going to have to consider him if he got to us. We weren’t surprised when he went one-one.

“I remember during the workout there was a sidearm pitcher, a college guy. I’m forgetting his name, but he ended up getting drafted and made it to the big leagues. Well, he had this low arm slot and a sweeper slider. I didn’t want Carlos to get up against him. He’s 17 and the guy is 22. But Carlos told me, ‘I’m good. Don’t worry about it.’ Then he goes up there and hits a double into the gap. That kind of stood out.”

Laurila: When we were chatting yesterday, you said that Correa brought someone with him to the workout.

McNamara: “Yes, he bought his buddy with him, his best friend. We scouted his friend a lot. Rafael Santo Domingo, our scout in Puerto Rico, and a scout in Florida, Noel Sevilla, are the two guys that really got to know Edwin Díaz. He was Correa’s travel friend on the trips from Puerto Rico to Miami and Miami to Seattle. We ended up drafting Edwin in the third round that year.

“One of the things that stood out for me and for Joe McIlvaine, the ex-GM who was seeing players for us at the time… we were down in Puerto Rico, and after Edwin pitched, we told one of our scouts that we wanted to talk to him. Edwin came over, we shook hands, and he said, ‘I’ll be right back. Can you wait here?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do this. He went over and got his mom, his dad, his brother, and his sister. He brought them over to tell me, ‘This is my family.’ Here is a 17-year-old kid talking to a scouting director about his future in professional baseball, and he wants me to meet his family. That told me something about his makeup. And when he introduced me to his little brother [Alexis Díaz], little did we know he was going to end up being the closer for the Cincinnati Reds.

“Something I tell young scouts is that players who really love it and who are enthusiastic about the game… obviously you need to have talent, [but those] are the ones you go after. If you don’t love it, it’s going to affect you. And Díaz obviously loved it. Loved it.”

Laurila: The Twins took Byron Buxton second overall. If I’m remembering correctly, some mock drafts had him going first.

McNamara: “You know, it’s funny. There is some gamesmanship, but when you’re around general managers and presidents and you go to the GM meetings and the winter meetings, you start to see it’s a group that is always in contact with each other. Mike Radcliff was the Twins scouting director. Mike passed away [in February of this year]. He was someone that everybody in the business looked up to; he was really good at what he did, and a great guy. Well, we were getting close to the draft, and Mike and I were at a game. He told me, ‘We’re leaning towards taking Kevin Gausman at two, but he really needs to step it up in his last couple of outings.’

“I just saw Gausman a few nights ago in Toronto, and trust me, when you’re a scouting director or a scout and you see a guy in the big leagues, you’re thinking about where you were and how you saw him when he was in college, I saw Gausman in high school and then in his three years at LSU.

“So Mike came over to me and said that they were probably going to take Gausman, because they needed a college pitcher who was going to be quick to the big leagues. I was like, ‘Wow. I guess this actually happens in this business.’ No one had ever done that. Anyway, it’s toward the end of the year, and I sent some of my guys to see Gausman. But we thought Buxton was going to be our guy. That was how we ranked them. We had Gausman after Mike [Zunino], but we had Buxton ahead of both of them.”

Laurila: You obviously ended up taking Zunino third overall.

McNamara: “We got to know Mike really well. We loved his makeup. We knew he was a durable catcher with power and that he was going to play for a long time. He got to the big leagues pretty quick and has had some good years. He hit 30 home runs one year and was an All-Star.”

Laurila: Who stands out as a player you missed out on because he went earlier than you expected — not necessarily in 2012?

McNamara: “Well, there are a few. An outfielder who homered the other night, Joshua Palacios, is one. I think he was a fourth-rounder [in 2016 to the Blue Jays]. I thought we could have waited around, but there are always guys like that where it’s, ‘Well, we’ll take him with the next pick.’ Ryan Mountcastle with Baltimore. We were convinced that he was going to get to our pick [in 2015]. We were stunned when he didn’t.

“You brought up Corey Seager yesterday. We had taken Kyle in 2009 and we knew the family pretty well. We had taken Justin Seager as well [in 2013]. Sometimes when people ask me, ‘Hey, do you have any regrets?’ I tell them, ‘We should have taken all of the Seagers, every one of them.’ Great family, great baseball family. Mom and dad, competitive baseball people.

“I mean, we liked Corey a lot, but we had Mike ahead of him. Looking back, I remember… this is kind of funny. Seager had Scott Boras [as an agent], and we talked to him about an overpay; if we took him in the second round, we would pay him like a first-rounder. Boras said, ‘There is no chance he gets to your second pick.’ He didn’t, of course.”

Laurila: There are definitely a lot of interesting names when you scroll down the list of that year’s first-rounders.

McNamara: “I saw all of them. Michael Wacha [19th to the Cardinals]. I remember going to visit him. Marcus Stroman [22nd to the Blue Jays]. I remember seeing Stroman on a Friday night at the University of Maryland and then flying across the country to see Kyle Zimmer [fifth to the Royals] the next day. Stroman had a great arm in college and has had a really good career. José Berríos [32nd to the Twins] was a high school kid in Puerto Rico with Díaz and Correa, so when you went down there, you would see all of them.

“It’s funny. It looks easy now, but you only get one pick per round. Guys fly off the board. There have been plenty of times where you held a player’s magnet in your hand and then all of a sudden he gets taken. That’s the draft. You can only control so much.

“There are always guys you like but don’t get, and it can be for different reasons. We took Díaz in the third round, and a few picks later [the Rockies] took Tom Murphy. I remember telling our guys that if we don’t take a catcher with our first pick, we’ll take Murphy with our second pick. That’s how the draft can change on you. Max Fried… we all saw him a lot. I remember going in to see him with our GM at the end of the year, and he had one of those games where he couldn’t throw a strike. I remember us getting on the plane and him telling me, ‘Look, you can take him if you want. It’s your show here, but you’re always going to remember this game.’ So we went back and forth. I mean, we liked Max a lot. Looking back, you think of all these guys. Fried, Gausman, Seager — the list goes on and on.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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7 months ago

I really don’t think it makes sense to second guess the decision to take Zunino. Gausman has had a better career than him, but he got himself non-tendered and had to totally remake himself afterwards. After Gausman, the next couple of guys were serious busts, and then they could have taken Max Fried at #7. But after that, you have to go down to #16 or #18 to find a guy who had an obviously better career than him (Giolito maybe, Seager definitely). Maybe you could say they should have drafted Max Fried, but even that’s a bit of a stretch. And nobody was considering Gioltio and Seager in the top 5, based on their bonuses.

The teams who really should be kicking themselves are the ones starting around #9 but before the Dodgers. Seager signed for $2.35M. Teams ahead of them were offering bonuses around that size or larger to Andrew Heaney, David Dahl, Addison Russell, Gavin Cecchini, Courtney Hawkins, and Nick Travieso.

7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think you have to look at picks mostly based on who they are rather than who else was available. If you take a guy who makes the majors the next year, plays 10+ seasons, is an All-Star and earns almost 20 WAR, I dont think you need to second guess that pick.

Sure, a perfect world exists where they take Seager instead, but that fantasy land is not a realistic measure for draft success.

7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Addison Russell wasn’t a bad pick either. He was a starting SS on a WS winner and was secondarily traded for Chris Bassett and Marcus Semien. Nobody at the time knew he was a terrible person

7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Nobody at the time knew he was a terrible person

Publicly, certainly. Whether or not people had questions about him privately, we’ll likely never know.

Stress and pressure can do things to people that no one would expect even if he wasn’t behaving terribly at the time. I won’t pretend know what happened in his brain, or who he is (or was) a person.

So, I’d agree, from a purely baseball perspective, it was a really good pick.

7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Yeah although I would say the difference between him and Zunino is pretty small.

7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Russell was a great pick. As I recall it was considered a bit of an overdraft at the time by the A’s, but they were right and he moved quickly.

When he was traded at the deadline in 2014 a lot of people felt it was a serious overpay, considering he was a top-10 prospect at that point (top 5 by 2015). Whether the A’s had seen something in his character by that point, or whether they just really really wanted Jeff Samardzija, we’ll probably never know.

Mitchell Mooremember
7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Seriously. In 2087 PAs over six season for the Mariners Zunino posted 13.6 fWAR, 3.9 WAR/600 PAs. If only every first round pick was as good over his controllable years. Too bad the two guys they got in trade for him, Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley, gave them so little.

7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

To be honest the idea that Kevin Gausman is reliably good now is still catching up to me. He was very bad for years.